There’s a new entry in what I am officially calling the “Winter Of Moody Pop,” and it’s very much a track about us. It’s about an unhailed rite of passage: Getting your driver’s license.
Olivia Rodrigo’s new single, “drivers license,” has debuted at the top of more than one Billboard chart and broken Spotify’s record for most streams in a week, per CNN. We are not immune to the single, in which the Disney alumna talks about that most formative of experiences in every Jalop’s life, one we’ve all gone through to come out the other side as the drivers we were meant to be.
Here is the chart-topping track’s video:
The video features what is likely an early ’80s Mercedes-Benz 380SL. But it’s important to address the elephant in the cabin: Exactly what car is being started and sampled in the track’s intro? It’s certainly not a 380SL.
My wild guess is that it’s a BMW E46, because the chime lilts like that of an E46 when its door is ajar, and the muffled growl of the ignition sounds like an inline-six to me. It could be a BMW E39, maybe. Though of course I would say it’s a BMW. So even if you don’t want to hear a sappy song written by a teenager, do it for the cars.
The song starts after the mysterious car fires up, and it does not want for Jalopnik cred as Rodrigo sings, “I got my driver’s license last week/Just like we always talked about/’Cause you were so excited for me.”
Sure, it’s very possible that Jalopnik is not the operative “we” in this verse, but it may as well be in that excerpt since we are always talking about driver’s licenses. And we are in fact excited for any driver who joins the ranks of motorists.
Verses later, and into the chorus, the singer goes into the heartbreak of a relationship ending and reminisces about the way that the relationship played out against the backdrop of driving. The singer proves that cars are still the setting of so much drama with an upper-case “D.” Which is to say, cars are small ecosystems, intimate spaces and nodes of emotion.
Here is a song about heartbreak and about what it means to get your freedom, to be alone and feel motion that you possess, which then spurs emotion and finally enables catharsis.
It’s about turning a key and operating a machine that elicits feelings, dammit! Think of a track like “Growin’ Up” by Bruce Springsteen, where the Boss belts out: “And I swear I found the key to the universe/In the engine of an old parked car.”
And now, nearly half a century after the release of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. people are still growing up in the front seat of a car, still finding themselves, who they are, on the road. That’s why there’s such a rich history of musicians tapping into road-going themes for inspiration across myriad genres.
Maybe not more than in the past, but the tradition is alive and well. Whether in recent pop singles like Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” or older pop fare such as Lorde’s “Green Light” or in more esoteric music like Adam Ismail’s recommendation from the British band Swervedriver.
Music is still a fundamental part of driving, and driving is still a fundamental part of growing up for so many people.